Hiking Trail Markers

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Hiking Trail Markers Big and … Huh?

A hiking trail is only as good as its markers. What are good hiking trail markers? They should be conspicuous and clearly visible! That, really, is the first and perhaps the only imperative. What task could be simpler to resolve than that?

"One of the hiking trail markers to be found in Germany"

Well, you’ll be surprised, because the number and variety of different approaches to trail marking is actually quite stunning.

The plain red-and-white brushstrokes have become something like the international standard. In Germany, however, where hiking is taken more seriously than elsewhere, “plain” is obviously not good enough. Every German trail has undergone a sophisticated branding exercise and proudly carries its own identity – in the form of individualized logos that you can spot on anything from oven gloves and beer glasses to, well, trees. Logo designs range from the literal: “if it’s called the Wine Trail, it’s gotta have …”

"One of the more graphic hiking trail markers in Germany"

… well, yes – and the stylized …

"The Witches Trail trail marker in Germany"

… for the Witches’ Trail (a picture of, say, Broomhilda on her favourite mode of transport was clearly felt inappropriate), via the abstract …

"The Camino de Santiago's trail marker found in Germany"
… (for the St James’s Trail), to the merely referential – yes, even in Germany that old “X marks the trail” tradition is alive and well. It can get a bit complicated, however, when several of these “X”s meet.

"Some hiking trail markers on a lampost in Germany"

But the real problems begin when there are no trees. If a trail is only as good as its markers, a marker can only be as good – i.e. visible – as the object to which it has been attached. How, for example, do you mark a trail – in the desert?

"Cairns in an Arizona hiking trail as hiking trail markers to follow"

In Arizona, they put a few stones together – any pattern will do as long as it betrays a human hand (the customs of constructing “cairns” apparently goes back to Celtic times). What is “conspicuous” clearly depends on the context …

"A stone coloured yellow as a hiking trail marker in France"

… which is why, sometimes, a little dab of colour will already do.

In theory, a rock is a good place to carry any type of marker – rocks, after all, are quite likely to remain where they are, at least for another thousand years or so. In practice, however, much depends on your choice of rock.

"A hiking trail marker showing the Felsenweg on stone"

And then, there is this.

"Grass with arrow painted red as a hiking trail marker in Easbourne UK"

Let’s just hope that nobody will mow the lawn any time soon.

Have you ever seen unusual hiking trail markers along your hikes? Why not share them in our Facebook page or at least join in the discussion?


12 comments to Hiking Trail Markers

  • The Mountains to Sea Trail in North Carolina, USA is still being built … and could use some help with its creation, marking and maintenance. No need to be an ace with a compass to join a work crew … just bring a lunch, some water and the desire to build something of lasting value.

  • Guess I’m with those that are concerned about getting lost when hiking especially in a foreign country! Thats one great benefit of the internet because you now can do a lot of research before hand and learn what to look for etc. Loved your collection of signs. Some are helpful and others not so much.

  • Funnily enough, Steve, the same thought crossed our minds when we saw that red arrow on the trail.

  • Anything short of a golden brick road and I’m probably getting myself lost, so while some of those signs are very attractive, I likely won’t be setting off on any of their trails any time soon. Unless there’s some markers that lead to the nearest ice cream parlor.
    I do wonder if anybody has ever been tempted to get some red spray paint and re-route that last trail.

  • I think this is the biggest thing that scares me about hiking…getting lost. Even though it’s a trail and you wouldn’t think it’s possible, I’ve been known to get lost in my front yard. Fun post…

  • Don’t we all, Jeremy. But the world is not perfect, unfortunately.

  • Jeremy Branham

    Hiking trail markers – a pet peeve of mine. Sometimes they are just horrible. When I am hiking, I want a trail clearly marked. Paths can be confusing and I don’t like coming to a point where I am not sure which way to go and the trail is not clearly marked. I don’t need anything fancy – just something clear which points me in the right direction :)

  • What a fun post! Loved seeing all the different types of markers. We saw a few of those “cairns” in a couple of the Colorado National Parks. I like the Witches’ trail and red arrow one. Some of the US parks are a bit more boring with just plain arrows. They could use some color and lessons from Germany.

  • Funny post. In Sleeping Bear Dunes they have problems with shifting sands. They have markers that are 6 feet high that become buried due to wind and sand. I have a photo of one with only about 6 inches of the marker post sticking out of the ground.

  • I had forgotten the painted rocks that marked some of our hiking trails in southern Crete until you sparked the memory in this post. We’d wondered why they had different colored arrows – probably signifying difficulty levels but we never found an answer.

  • My favorite has got to be the red arrow. I guess they repaint each time they cut the grass. One of these days, someone will get tired and do something different.

  • The West Highland Way in Scotland was really well marked – the Cumbria Way in England less so. I do like how stylized some of the signs get.

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